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Mysterious gravestone triggers parish-wide search for family of deceased

A Catholic cemetary with antiqued filter

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J-P Mauro - published on 11/05/22

St. Michael the Archangel parish is on a mission to reunite a 19th-century gravestone with the family of the deceased.

The parish of St. Michael the Archangel Catholic Church, in South Glens Falls, New York, is trying to lay to rest the mystery of a cryptic headstone discovered on their grounds. The burial marker dates to 1863, but the stone has been damaged and it does not indicate the family name of the deceased

St. Michael’s parish shared the story of the 156-year-old gravestone in a Facebook post on November 2: 

The gravestone indicates that it marks the burial spot of two individuals: “Patrick – died May 25, 1863. Age: 4 years. Catharine – died Aug. 26, 1866.” While Catharine’s age is not indicated, the parish believes that she was still a child when she died. With no last name to go by, the search has been difficult for the parish. 

Discovery

In an interview with News 10, Fr. Tony Childs, pastor at St. Michael the Archangel, explained that the gravestone was discovered by chance while preparing the grounds for a new statue of the church’s namesake. While a crew of workers were flattening the soil to install patio pavers, they unearthed the broken headstone. The team was unable to locate the remaining portion before they paved the area over. 

It is unknown exactly how the gravestone became buried, but the parish believes it occurred when the parish church was rebuilt. Before the construction could begin, however, they had to move their old 19th-century graveyard. The stone must have been obscured during this transfer. 

With the remains of the old graveyard underneath the church, the parish does not expect to find more evidence connected to the headstone of Patrick and Catharine. Still, Father Childs is intent on finding their surviving family. He told News 10: 

“Obviously, a family in the 1860s buried these two children. For whatever reason, the headstone was ill-taken care of, and what I want to do is be a good steward.”

The search

With little info to go on, and no promise of more evidence, St. Michael’s has had to do some sleuthing. Fr. Childs said they have searched through genealogy websites like 23andMe, as well as scouring newspaper records, to no avail. Similar searches on FindAGrave and FamilySearch also failed to bear fruit. 

He said the next step will be to consult the Folklife Center at Crandall Public Library, which may have public records that date back far enough to identify Patrick and Catharine. Social media may have yielded a fresh lead, too, as a Theresa Taylor commented on the Facebook post that the headstone may have belonged to her mother’s family. The parish invited her to reach out, but have not reported a positive identification. 

While the search seems like it may end in failure, the folks at St. Michael’s seem confident that they can locate the surviving relatives of the deceased. In 1995, the parish discovered a similar unidentifiable headstone during renovations to the church. In this instance, the family of the deceased recognized the headstone and it was returned to them. 

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CatholicismParish lifePriest
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